Angel Face, for those who haven’t seen it (a group that included me until last week) is a clear descendent of the noir films of the classic era. Jean Simmons plays a classic femme fatale in the most literal sense of the word, and Robert Mitchum’s character is ripe for falling into her web.
It’s another of those unflinching noirs from the fifties–entertaining but without the possibility of redemption that tipified the true greats in the genre.
But the fact that noir had completely lost its way in the fifties is, in this particular case, not the point. What jumped out at me from this movie is that it would never be made with the same focus today.
The plot is driven by an obsession–the femme fatale, in this case, is compulsively in love with the guy, and this drive eventually, as in all fifties noir, ends badly.
So far, so good, but I got to thinking: would this film ever be made today?
And the answer appears to be “no way”. In fact, if this one was filmed in 2020, it would either be a horror film in which we focus closely on the disturbed, deranged character of Simmons’ character, moving through the evolution of her obsession while she wreaks tragic havoc on those around her. A psychological thriller could work, too, but a harsh one.
The other possible take would be to look at the woman as a victim. Undiagnosed mental illness leading to awful, tear-jerking events and, eventually, to her doom. All very touching and sad.
In a nutshell, this is why we’re still watching movies from the 1950s. It’s much more fun to watch the femme fatale doing her thing for no reason except that that is what femmes fatale do. And the plot built around that is much better than what would transpire viewed through a “modern” lens.
In fact, this overly indulgent attitude towards people who create serious problems is probably the reason Hollywood has moved to the science fiction blockbuster: having caricatured bad guys is much more entertaining than a politically correct view of mad criminals. People want to be entertained, so anything that doesn’t preach at them is appreciated.
And that makes Angel Face, a film made in 1952, refreshing.
Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose book Outside gives a nice mad bad guy to go with a well-thought-out science fiction setting. If you enjoy Loki in the MCU, you should love Graham. You can check the book out here.